I know I promised this post several days ago, but it took me a lot longer to write than I expected.
In my last Culture-Building article, I wrote about my reasons for creating a religion for my world and the influence it has had on the rest of my culture-building experience. In this article, I hope to define the religion, describe the source of some of its parts, and perhaps explain why I structured it the way I did.
As I expressed in the previous article, the idea of my world’s religion began with my desire for a greater-than-human antagonist to oppose my peace-seeking protagonist. The end result was a fully formed religion that can be divided into four parts: the central trio (Creator, Destroyer, and Eternal Goddess), the Guardians of the Cycle of Incarnation (Royal Eagle, Hungry Wolf, Great Serpent, and Splendid Phoenix), the three Fates (Maiden, Matron, and Crone), and the eight demigods (Life/Death, Love/Hate, Hope/Fear, and Peace/War). The guiding principle of all of them is to maintain Balance and hold back the Chaos.
Creator, Destroyer, Eternal Goddess
The portion of the religion that is most widely acknowledged among the world’s mortals is the central trio of Creator, Destroyer, and Eternal Goddess. The Creator creates the mortal souls, which are then placed in the Cycle of Incarnation. The Destroyer rids the realms of those things that are unnecessary and hinder the progress of mortal life. The Eternal Goddess rules over and protects the Land of Free Souls, a spiritual realm, similar to the Greek Elysium, inhabited by those souls who no longer move through the Cycle.
Together, these three deities balance each other. You should not have one without the other two.
My reasons for creating this trio are possibly the most obvious. Although I was considering the Judeo-Christian creator God when I came up with this, most, if not all, Earth religions feature a creator deity (though many of these created the world, not just the souls that inhabit it). Destroyer deities, too, are common. Even the Judeo-Christian devil figure, while not considered a deity, can be seen as a destroyer as he seeks to bring the downfall of men.
The Eternal Goddess, however, is a little more difficult to place. I wanted to provide the Creator (who can be seen as the king of this set of deities) with a lifemate who could provide him with children (the demigods). I also needed someone to rule the realm where souls went when they left the Cycle. This position is, in a way, a combination of two Greek gods: Hera, queen of the gods and wife to Zeus, and Hades, lord of the underworld.
These were the references I considered as I created them, but I recently learned that my trio also mirrors, in a way, the Trimurti in Hinduism: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. It has always intrigued me how similarly humans process the world, even across time and cultures.
Cycle of Incarnation
The Cycle of Incarnation is a spiritual realm that resembles a large pool, in which mortal souls wait to be placed into their next lives, stripped of their memories. I created the Cycle because I needed an explanation for how the main character could be the mortal incarnation of a deity. The Cycle has also become important in the formation of the human civilizations as one particular soul helped build all of them over time.
The Cycle is reminiscent of the Indian concept of Reincarnation and Karma, with the exception that, in this religion, there is usually a waiting period between lives and that the souls are eventually removed from the Cycle and taken to the Land of Free Souls. The Cycle is also guarded by four deities, each governing a separate task in the Cycle.
I decided to seek out animal guardians for the Cycle instead of humanoid ones because it did not make sense that all of the gods would be humanoid when humans had only held power in this realm for about two millennia before the Peace of Evon series. To find these animals, I turned to various cultures and the significance different animals held within them.
In Greek mythology, I found that the eagle was considered to be a symbol of Zeus and a messenger of the gods. In many cultures, I found that the wolf is revered or feared as a mighty hunter. In Native American cultures, I found the serpent as a bringer of fertility and rebirth. And, also in Greek mythology, I rediscovered the phoenix, a long-lived bird that lives through a cycle of death and rebirth, usually through fire.
With these discoveries, I created the Cycle of Incarnation. The Royal Eagle carries souls from their final resting place to the Cycle and gives them to the Wolf. The Hungry Wolf strips the souls of their memories and eats them. The memories settle in his fur until the soul to which they belong is no longer part of the Cycle. The Wolf then throws the souls into the Cycle, where the Great Serpent swims, keeping watch over and protecting the souls. When it is time for a soul to move into its next life, the Serpent removes the appropriate soul from the Cycle. The Splendid Phoenix then carries it to the womb that carries its next life.
And so the Cycle carries on.
The Fates, otherwise known as the Ladies, are perhaps my favorite combination of Earth religions. I created the Fates as the sentinels of mortal life and the purveyors of future Sight to those mortals with the magical gift. All Seers within this realm recognize the Ladies and the gifts they provide them in their visions.
The idea of the three Fates comes from Greek mythology, in which the three Moirai keep watch over the destined fates of mortals and gods and control the life thread of each mortal. Their names, however, come from the three aspects of the Goddess in pagan religions: Maiden, Matron, Crone.
Like the Guardians of the Cycle, the Fates work together in their eternal tasks. The Maid uses her Spindle to spin the threads representing the souls of the mortals from soul material. The Matron weaves these threads into the Tapestry of Mortal Life, representing the futures that she Sees. When it is time for a mortal life to end, the Crone cuts that mortal’s life thread, sending it to the Cycle with one of edge of her Double-Edged Dagger or to the Land of Free Souls with the other.
And, like the Moirai, the Fates don’t control the fates of mortals. They simply see the futures that will form based on their decisions, actions, and circumstances and do what they can to safeguard against the interference of Chaos.
The fourth, and final, set of deities in this religion was actually the initial catalyst for the religion’s creation. The greater-than-human antagonist that I originally sought became the demigod War, part of the youngest pair of demigods. Gemini Cosley then became the mortal incarnation of his twin sister, Peace.
The demigods, children of the Creator and the Eternal Goddess, are unique among the deities of this religion. Unlike the others, they were not part of the original set of gods. Not only that, but they are of varying ages themselves, ranging anywhere from two millennia to several hundred or even several thousand millennia in age. On top of that, they are the only set of deities that directly influences mortal life, which, in turn, influences their personalities and actions to be more like those of the mortals.
Within the story, the purpose behind the births of these four pairs of demigods lies in the eternal struggle to maintain Balance and stave off Chaos. Each pair was born to balance a particular Chaos that had arisen: endless comatose states that were neither life nor death; emotional apathies that lead to negligence of lives, families, progress, and political structures; and anarchic states in which enemies were unknown and sudden violence was nearly commonplace.
Balance and Chaos
As I have said previously, Balance is the guiding principle of all of the deities in this religion. The gauge of spiritual morality is not so much between good and evil as it is between what is necessary for Balance and the Chaos that arises when that Balance is destroyed. The Chaos I reference is not simply the chaos of disorder, but that which leads mortals, gods, and nature to insanity.
Culture-Building through Religion
Creator, Destroyer, Eternal Goddess, Cycle of Incarnation, Fates, and demigods. This is the religion that guides the culture behind the Peace of Evon series. As I continue through this series of articles on Culture-Building, I will continue to reference this religion as its influence has affected nearly every part of the culture I molded.
I hope you will join me on this journey of exploration through Culture-Building. I would love to hear what your experiences are with different aspects of cultures in the stories you have written or read, or even what you would consider if you had to mold a culture for a story in the future.